By Duncan Mlanjira
Chileka International Airport in Blantyre has now been re-opened for big aircrafts as of today, January 2, much to the relief of the public, which is busy circulating a video clip of a Malawi Airlines’ B737 landing and taking off.
Minister of Transport and Public Works Ralph Jooma visited the airport in the just ended December who promised the public that he had been assured by the construction contractor to complete the rehabilitation of the main runway by January.
The rehabilitation works of the runway, which developed cracks and was a challenge for landing aircrafts, cost government over K4 billion.
When he visited the airport, Jooma had said he is impressed with the rehabilitation works, which started last April and was expected to be completed by July but the deadline was later shifted to August, then to November and again extended to December 31.
Following the closure of the main runway, big aircrafts have not been landing at the airport with only small planes ferrying Blantyre bound passengers to Chileka who had landed at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe.
Commenting on Facebook under his signature of ‘Ulonda wa Lero’ on Saturday, Charles Ulaya had asked if anybody was in the know as to when Chileka Airport runway will be fixed.
“Flying to Blantyre is becoming very inconveniencing as you have to fly through Lilongwe where you also spend unnecessary hours for nothing.
“A project scheduled for 1 month but it has been months and months now. Also when is the X-ray scanning machine going to be fixed? Manually searching people and bags is not very effective,” he had said.
Last month, FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s intended visit to Malawi on his African tour, was cancelled at the last minute because the private jet flying him and his entourage couldn’t land at Chileka.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) had said an advance team of FIFA aviation experts ruled out at the last minute that they couldn’t take a chance to land at Chileka Airport for safety reasons after carrying out a full assessment of the secondary runway.
Infantino couldn’t be landed at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe and use other means to travel to Blantyre due to his tight schedule, who was expected to arrive in the country at 2pm and leave at 7pm for Democratic Republic of Congo.
Infantino, who is accompanied by Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Ahmad Ahmad; his special advisor Samuel Eto’o Fils as well as former French international attacking midfielder Youri Djorkaeff, started their African tour from Madagascar to Mozambique and the DRC.
He was to visit Malawi in support of FAM president Walter Nyamilandu, himself a FIFA Council member, to inaugurate the Mpira Stadium in Limbe.
During his visit in Doha, Qatar where he attended the FIFA Club World Cup Infantino had assured him that he will come to Malawi this year.
“He is very much committed including his entire team. As far as they are concerned, they have unfinished business in Malawi and they are excited about the prospect of coming to Malawi,” Nyamilandu had said.